Friday, September 28, 2007

This, I have to check out...

Fizzies probably don't mean much to those of us who didn't grow up in the late 1950s and 1960s. I'd always heard about them and figured they were like the Pop Rocks of my parents' generation.
Well, all us young 'uns now have the opportunity to find out what Fizzies actually taste like. Online vintage candy stores have recently begun promoting a reformulated version of Fizzies sweetened with sucralose.
So what are Fizzies? Apparently it's an effervescent tablet - similar to Alka Seltzer - that turns water into soda. Although marketed primarily to children back in the day, Fizzies were also popular among adults as sugar-free alternatives to traditional soft drinks. Original Fizzies came in several different fruit flavors, such as orange and grape, along with traditional soda flavors like root beer.
I don't know how these tablets taste, but as a fan of all those crazy candies back in the 80s - I'm more than willing to give it a try.

Just for fun, here's an old-school commercial for Fizzies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The World's Weirdest Conspiracy Theories

I thought these were pretty, well, interesting. Compiled by "Swallowing The Camel" , here are just a few of "The World's Weirdest/Stupidest Conspiracy Theories."

* The Beatles were designed and sent to the U.S. by the British Psychological Warfare Division, to undermine the morals of American teenagers.
* Stephen King killed John Lennon.
* World War II was staged. It never really happened. The Illuminati employed elaborate special effects, stage magic, and phony journalism to scare the world into pacifism.
* George H.W. Bush was really George Scherff Sr., a Nazi sent to destroy America as a teenager and adopted by Prescott Bush.
* The 1939 War of the Worlds radio broadcoast was a psychological warfare study funded by C.D. Jackson on behalf of the Rockefeller Foundation, designed to find out how Americans would react to an enemy invasion.
* The doomed Franklin Expedition was sent to the Arctic not only to find the Northwest Passage, but to secretly investigate UFO sightings that had been reported since the 1700s. The men were captured, experimented upon, and eaten by giant aliens.
* Denver International Airport was built expressly to conceal a vast underground complex, headquarters of the New World Order elite. Clues are hidden in the airport's peace-themed mural.
* Scientology: Billions of years ago the intergalactic overlord Xenu used a film to brainwash our souls ("Thetans") into believing in the world's major religions, which he invented.
* The early Middle Ages (614-911 A.D.) never occurred. Everything that supposedly happened during those years was either a misunderstanding, an event from a different era, or an outright lie - Charlemagne, for instance, is a fictional figure. And we are actually living in the 1700s.
* Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence, faked his death to move to Germany and become Adolph Hitler.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Happy National Cherries Jubilee Day!

No, I’m not making it up. The food industry likes to celebrate various foods and beverages throughout the calendar year - and cherries jubilee happens to be today’s honoree.
Not sure what this particular dish is? You're probably not the only one. It's a dessert made with cherries and liqueur - typically cognac or Kirschwasser. It's then flambéed and served as a sauce over vanilla ice cream.
The recipe is generally credited to French chef Auguste Escoffier, who prepared the dish for one of Queen Victoria's Jubilee celebrations back in the late 1800s. These jubilees were held to honor the anniversary of her reign as British monarch.
Here is a typical cherries jubilee recipe. However, if you're like me - and are a wee bit nervous about the whole flambe cooking procedure - here's a tasty variation on the cherry jubilee dish that sounds relatively easy to whip up. And the other good news? It's low-cal and made with Splenda!
Check out this recipe for Chocolate Chip Cherries Jubilee Coffee Cake. Using low-fat Bisquick, Splenda, cherries, chocolate chips, fat-free sour cream and brandy extract, you can make a fabulous coffee cake that only has 127 calories and 3 fat grams. Yes please!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Eating healthy at the salad is possible!

Rather than grabbing sandwiches during my lunch hour, I've been hitting up a lot of salad bars. It always seems like the healthier alternative. However, putting together a salad does not a nutritious meal make. If you load up on enough fatty ingredients, you may as well eat a Big Mac as far as calorie intake is concerned.

Here are a few tips to navigating the salad bar:

* Darker leaves make a more nutritious salad. Rather than iceberg, use spinach, romaine, Boston lettuce, endive, kale, and baby field greens. Leafy greens also contain Vitamin A, key to growth and vision.

* The more colorful the plate, the more antioxidant power. Pile up on broccoli, cucumbers, red peppers, eggplant, cauliflower, avocado, carrots, baby corn and even berries. Leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and citrus fruits are also high in Vitamin C, which improves iron consumption and promotes healthy gums and tissues.

* Add grilled chicken or other high-protein foods chunky white tuna, lean roast beef, beans, peas, or low-fat cottage cheese.

* If you're topping the salad with cheese, go with a stronger flavor - such as sharp cheddar or feta - and keep the amount minimal. Cheese does contain fat.

* Go easy on the croutons and bacon bits.

* Olive or canola oil-based dressings are good for the heart. Try an Italian dressing or an oil and vinegar mix.

* Consider avoiding some of the creamier dishes like coleslaw and pasta salad. They tend to have more fat and calories.

The same tips apply at home - if you're building a salad from scratch.

I've also become addicted to a fabulous salad dressing line from Walden Farms. Made with sucralose, the calorie-free dressings can be found in most major grocery stores. Check it out!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A psychedelic wonderland

As most of my loyal readers know by now, I like to throw in the occasional off-topic entries to keep things interesting. And, if you hadn't noticed, this is a newsy week. But rather than delve into controversial topics like the war in Iraq or racial tensions in a small Louisiana town - or even the origin of this week's new catchprase, "Don't tase me, bro!" - I thought I'd discuss the Blue Man Group.

Why, you might ask? Well, it turns out two of the group's three founders - Matt Goldman and Chris Wink - recently opened a nursery school. The Blue Man Creativity Center now enrolls more than 40 kids between the ages of two and four.

I'm going to back-track here for a minute to talk about the actual Blue Man Group (or BMG). If you've never experienced a show, well, you're missing out and I say get thee to a performance. However, it's also a little hard to describe a production that features props like twinkies, marshmallows, Cap'n Crunch, jell-o, paint, toilet paper, a glow-in-the-dark band and odd homemade instruments. Described by its creators as a simple way to experience the joy of being alive, the Blue Man Group is truly a feast for the audience's senses.

I haven't been in a few years, but I still vividly remember the band playing an even more twisted-than-usual version of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," while an enthusiastic audience sang along and electronic signs flashed various messages. And I recall nearly drowning in a sea of toilet paper coming from every corner of the theater during the strobe-lit final minutes.

A little advice, by the way, for those of you attending a Blue Man Group show and sitting in one of the front rows - bring a poncho. It gets a little sloppy up there.

So back to the new day care center. Here's a description from the New Yorker:

"Every day at the center will end with a ritual called Glow Time, during which the shades are lowered, the regular lights are turned off, and black lights are turned on, illuminating the parts of the room (including work created by the students) that have been painted with special UV paint. The collection of Blue Man-inspired educational gewgaws on hand is a far cry from flash cards and Play-Doh. There’s a hypnotic Bubble Machine, with kid-controlled colored lights; a futuristic Water Machine, with a mini-whirlpool; and a trippy installation, left over from the B.M.G.’s 2003 tour, of giant computer-animated dragonflies that can be made to light up, flap their wings, and fly. The Tree House, whose slide deposits kids in the Texture Pit, looks like fun. So does the OMi-Beam machine, a computerized rig made up of eight ceiling-mounted halogen lamps, loudspeakers, and a video monitor (there is only one other OMi-Beam machine in the country, at Madame Tussaud’s). Colored beams create pools of light on the floor, and by waving a reflective wand through the beams kids can produce any number of sounds, from musical instruments to the calls of barnyard animals and samples of pop hits from the nineteen-eighties (one is Fatboy Slim’s “Rockafeller Skank”)."

How cool is that? It's akin to stepping into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. All they need is lickable wallpaper and a chocolate river and it's a true utopia for children.

That being said, this sounds like a pretty sweet stomping ground even for adults. Computer-animated dragonflies, black lights and bubble machines? Seriously!
Think they'd accept me into the program? I might have 20-plus years on the other students, but I could teach the kiddies all about the 1980s pop hits that will be playing in the background.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Think pink? How about drink pink?

Good news! I just found out that Sweet Leaf Tea - a tasty beverage found in various grocery stores and specialty stores - is launching a "Drink Pink" promotion to benefit breast cancer research. In case you didn't know, the goal of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, held in October, is to raise awareness and promote the importance of early detection. Through the "Drink Pink" campaign, Sweet Leaf Tea will be putting pink-capped tea bottles on store shelves at Central Market, Sprouts and Kroger supermarkets nationwide. A percentage of sales from those particular bottles will benefit cancer research. A few of the flavors sporting these pink caps include: Organic Original Sweet Tea, Organic Peach Sweet Tea and Raspberry Sweet Tea. Personally, I'm a big fan of the Diet Mint & Honey Green Tea. It's healthy...and sweetened with sucralose, of course!
In case you couldn't tell, I'm a big fan of this promotion and will definitely be plunking down a few dollars on Sweet Leaf next month to help support this wonderful cause.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Raspberry Bliss

I'm not a huge Starbucks fan, but sometimes nothing hits the spot like one of their Breve Lattes. Several of my friends are more partial to the coffee giant's various frappuccinos. A popular flavor in recent weeks has been the Raspberry Mocha Frappuccino Blended Coffee. Frappuccino runs are one of the few times I'll see gal pals completely ignore the number of calories they're consuming. However, I've got some good news for them and all those other berry-flavored coffee lovers! The crew over at Hungry Girl has whipped up a significantly lower-fat, lower-cal, sucralose-based replacement to the Starbucks rasberry drink. Check it out!

4 oz. Almond Breeze, Unsweetened Chocolate
2 oz. Torani Sugar Free Raspberry Syrup
1 1/2 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. Fat Free French Vanilla Coffee-mate powder
1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa
3 packets Splenda
1 1/2 cups crushed ice OR 8-10 ice cubes
2 tbsp. Fat Free Reddi-wip (a one-serving squirt)

Place coffee, cocoa, Splenda and Coffee-mate in a glass. Add 1 oz. hot water to glass, and stir to dissolve ingredients. Next add Almond Breeze and Torani syrup and stir briefly. Now place contents of glass in a blender. Add ice and blend on high speed until well blended. Pour into a tall glass, and finish off with whipped cream. Enjoy!

Serving Size: entire recipe (approx. 16 ounces)
Calories: 63
Fat: 2g
Sodium: 130mg
Carbs: 7.5g
Fiber: 1g
Sugars: 2.5g
Protein: 1.5g

Mascots Gone Wild!

When I first saw this video, I howled with laughter. I wasn't sure if it was staged or real, but it literally brought tears to my eyes. Confession? I've now seen it several times and it still makes me chuckle.

In case you haven't heard, the University of Oregon's mascot has been suspended for a game following this brawl with the University of Houston mascot. Apparently, the duck was peeved the cougar imitated one of his trademarks - push-ups for total points after each touchdown. (Sidenote: For many, many years, my college mascot has done this same exact "trademark" at all of our home games, so I'm not so sure it's unique.) Long story short, the duck (who resembles Disney fave, Donald Duck) started throwing punches and body-slamming the cougar, finally shaking his tailfeathers at the cameras.
This example of fowl play (sorry, I couldn't help myself) has quickly become a YouTube favorite. And while the image of big furry animals duking it out is pretty entertaining, I also can't help thinking that the mascot represents the university.
Bucky Badger, for example, is one of Madison's most prominant figures - especially among children - and serves as the school's ambassador, of sorts.
A quick check shows that mascot-related violence seems to be growing, at least in terms of the number of video clips surfacing on-line. So let's try to cut down on the mascot-on-mascot violence. After all, if these rumbles become common, I guarantee any humor value would eventually be lost.
In the meantime, looks to me like the Duck won this round!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chinese chicken

I was a lucky kid. Growing up, the family of one of my closest friends happened to own one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Chicago area. I ate their food at least once a week, resulting in the consumption of a lot of Mongolian beef, Mu Shu pork, Orange chicken and Sesame chicken.
That consumption eventually slowed down. First, my friend's family - tired of the stress and long hours - closed down the restaurant. Second, I discovered an array of other tasty ethnic foods, particularly Middle Eastern and Indian. And probably the most important reason? I saw a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that determined how unhealthy Chinese food could really be. Sesame chicken, for example, can pack more than 1,000 calories and 70 grams of fat.
Who would have thunk it? Chinese food always seemed so healthy, what with the focus on vegetables and rice.
The good news is, though, there are now a number of low-cal, low-carb Chinese food recipes surfacing each day. Here is one featuring a Chinese sea bass that only runs about 270 calories.

A few other tips:
If you are at a Chinese restaurant, you can cut down on the fat by asking for your food steamed or with little-to-no oil. Also choose brown rice instead of white and watch how much sauce you use.

Here's another recipe - courtesy of - to whet your appetite.

1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
1/8 cup sesame oil
1 1/2 cups unflavored bread crumbs
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cubed

1. Combine the raw sesame seeds with the 1/8 cup of sesame oil and microwave for 2 minutes.
2. Mix the roasted sesame seeds with the bread crumbs, salt, pepper, dry mustard, nutmeg and SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend. Set aside.
3. Heat a large frying pan or wok with the 1/4 cup of sesame oil and the vegetable oil.
4. Dredge the chicken pieces in the bread crumb mixture so that they are evenly coated.
5. Drop the chicken into the hot pan and cook over medium heat.
6. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown on each side.
7. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with rice, noodles or vegetables and assorted mustards for dipping.

540 Calories, 32g fat, 30g carb

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

No wonder women have self-esteem issues...

When I started blogging, I promised myself I would never write anything about pathetic, maladjusted celebrities. My feeling is, the less attention these people get, the better. Plus, the fact that important national and international news has often been buried below, for example, an update on a spoiled heiress getting sent to the pokey? Irritating to say the least.
Well, I decided to break that self-made vow yesterday after seeing - and hearing - some of the comments about the Britney Spears-Video Music Awards debacle. Was her performance awful? From the little bit I watched online yesterday, the answer would be a resounding yes. She couldn't sing. She couldn't dance. She wasn't even able to lip-sync in tune.
But is she overweight? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
For those unaware of the subsequent barrage of "beached whale" jokes, here are a few other weight-related Britney snarks I've seen published. "Lard & Clear Loser at VMAs" was the headline of a New York Post article that said the pop singer "jiggled like Jell-O." Here's another one: "The bulging belly she was flaunting was SO not hot," wrote E! Online. Finally..."Many women wouldn’t eat for days if they were wearing that," said Janice Min, editor of US Weekly.
Look, I agree she probably should not have been strutting around the stage in such an unforgivingly skimpy bikini. But as far as pounds go, the Brit-ster still looks amazing. Sure, she doesn't have the abs-of-steel she rocked back in her late teens, but she's older now and has given birth...twice.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average woman is 5 foot 4 inches tall and 164 pounds - in other words, a size 14. I guarantee Ms. Spears remains significantly smaller than the average gal.
This isn't the first time celebrities have been bashed for not resembling toothpicks. I still remember this magazine headline - "Batman and Fatgirl" - about Alicia Silverstone's appearance in the George Clooney Batman film about a decade ago. The article came out around the same time I was captain of my high school swim team, a sport where many struggle with eating disorders. The movie blew chunks, but despite what the celebrity rags said, Alicia looked fantastic with a few extra pounds on her slight frame.
So riddle me this, gang. How do you tell girls to appreciate their own bodies when magazines blast celebrities larger than a size 4? In a time when actresses and models are dropping down to frighteningly skeletal proportions, I think we're sending a dangerous message by trashing women for having full, healthy figures. Sticks and stones...words do hurt, you know.
In conclusion, I'm no Britney fan. I think she's a train wreck and should focus on her family rather than where the next party is taking place.
But the girl ain't fat!
I'll be back tomorrow with more sugar-free news and recipes. Just had to rant about this particular topic.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Me talk pretty one day...or not

I first read "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris back in 2002, on a transatlantic flight from Chicago to Ireland. I laughed so hard, neighboring passengers asked me to read some of the book aloud. Within a few minutes, I was surrounded by a growing group of snickering listeners, several of whom demanded the title so they could purchase the book after landing. To date, I think "Me Talk Pretty One Day" is one of the most hysterical collections of non-fiction I have ever had the privilege to read.
For those unfamiliar with his work, David Sedaris is an American humorist and frequent contributor to NPR's "This American Life." In "Me Talk Pretty," my favorite of his books, he writes about his life as an expatriate in Paris and a strange childhood spent with a foul-mouthed brother, a sister that wears fat suits and cosmetic bruises, a father that hordes spoiled fruit and a mother who fills Easter baskets with cartons of cigarettes.
So why am I blathering on about Sedaris? Because I found myself in a very Sedaris-esque situation the other day.
Long story short, I mentor for a refugee family of 10 from the Middle East. They recently relocated here and I'm helping tutor them in English, as well as American culture and traditions. During a visit earlier this week, they pulled out "The Night Before Christmas," a gift someone gave them. I'm not sure why anyone would give a Muslim family a Christmas book as a gift, but bygones. Anyway, what do you think their first question was? Who is the man in the red suit?
Here's a quick recap of the conversation.
Me: Santa Claus? You've never heard of him?
Them: No.
Me: Jolly St. Nick? Kris Kringle? Ho ho ho?
Them: Confused look.
Me: Do you know what a legend is? A myth?
Them: No understand.
Me: Santa is big man in red suit...who travels with reindeer...comes to homes on Christmas Eve when...people asleep. Leave presents for good children...but not really...because Santa doesn't exist. Just story parents tell.
Them: Confused look.
The longer the broken-language conversation went on, the more hilarious it became.
Compare that to a passage in "Me Talk Pretty One Day," when the author is in a French class in Paris and tries, along with fellow students from various nations, to explain the concept of Easter, in beginning French, to a baffled Muslim classmate:
The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. "It is," said one, "a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and ..." She faltered and her fellow countryman came to her aid. "He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two ... morsels of ... lumber." The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm. "He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father." "He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples." "He nice, the Jesus." "He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today." Part of the problem had to do with vocabulary. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such a complicated refexive phrases as "to give of yourself your only begotten son." Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead. "Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb," the Italian nanny explained. "One too may eat of the chocolate." "And who brings the chocolate?" the teacher asked. I knew the word, so I raised my hand, saying, "The rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate." "A rabbit?" The teacher, assuming I'd used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wriggling them as though they were ears. "You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?" "Well, sure," I said. "He come in the night when one sleep on bed. Which a hand he have a basket and foods." The teacher sighed and shook her head. As far as she was concerned, I had just explained everything wrong with my country. "No, no," she said. "Here in France the chocolate is brought by a a big bell that flies in from Rome."

I still crack up whenever I read this. Hopefully, one day, my refugee family will be able to understand enough English that we can chuckle over it together!

As a fun little extra, here's a recipe I found for a pomegranate jelly popular in the Middle East. This one, though, utilizes Splenda.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A sugar-free juice a day keeps the junk monster at bay

I don't know what your eating habits were like as a kid, but I know mine were less than healthy. Breakfast, lunch and dinner often turned into a table war between parents and child over anything green. Lettuce, carrots and celery sticks? No thanks! Give me Wonder bread, Cheetos and Count Chocula. Steamed chicken? I'd prefer a fried McChicken Sandwich from Mickey D's. Orange juice? I'd pass over that in a New York minute if a high-calorie soft drink or sugary punch was available.
It's a good thing I was always playing sports and had parents who were determined to keep their little rascals healthy, no matter how much said rascals griped. Otherwise, I'm sure I would have ballooned in size during the very years when schoolyard teasing mattered the most.
That being said, I tried out a sugar-free juice the other day that I think might entice even the most junk food-addicted of children. Sun Shower Nectarine Juices is 100 percent juice, pressed from nectarines and sweetened with sucralose. There are also two other blends that include berries and mango. For children that turn their noses up at orange juice, Sun Shower might be a tasty high-vitamin C alternative. Finally, keep this little tidbit in mind. One 12-ounce bottle offers up two full servings of fruit. So if you're worried about your kid trading in an apple at lunch for a bag of Doritos, this could help fulfill their daily fruit intake.

Per Serving:
93 calories, 21g carbs, 0g fat

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Peep this...

Q: Does the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man have a girlfriend?
A: He did...until she got toasted.

Apparently marshmallows are no longer just stuffing for s'mores or a sweet topping on that cup of hot chocolate.
The marshmallow industry has jumped on the gourmet bandwagon, rolling out packages of the gooey treats featuring everything from caramel, strawberry and chocolate swirls to lemon chiffon and lavendar flavors.
The outcome? After years of inconsistent sales, the $132 million industry is now up nearly 7.5 percent through July compared with the same period last year. Take Kraft, for example. The company recently unveiled Jet-Puffed Marshmallows in strawberry and toasted coconut flavors. The strawberry version is already outselling the original by a 2-to-1 margin. I'm really eager to try out some of these new-fangled flavors, however the mention of a chili-flavored marshmallow is churning up the upchuck factor. Please, let's not get too extreme, okay?
On the other hand, another new trend in the industry - one that I can fully support - is sugar-free style marshmallows, baby!
Earlier this year, Just Born - the maker of Peeps - unveiled a Splenda-based addition to their infamous marshmallow treat line. I don't know yet whether sugar-free Peeps can joust as well as their resilient sugary counterparts, but I'm willing to give it a shot. If you're unfamiliar with Peeps wars, check out this video for a few chuckles.

Also, for any hot cocoa lovers out there - and yes, winter is almost upon us again - here is a marshmallow-free white chocolate variation, courtesy of Yummy!

Winter White Hot Chocolate
2 cups fat free half-and-half
2 cups fat-free milk
3/4 cup Nestle® Toll House® Premier white morsels
1/4 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Garnishes: fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed; crushed peppermint candies

Bring half-and-half and milk to a boil over medium-high heat; add white chocolate morsels and SPLENDA® Granulated, stirring until morsels melt. Stir in vanilla. Garnish, if desired.

Per serving: 320 calories, 11g fat, 39g carbs.